Planet PDF Weblog for week of Sept. 30. 2002
A daily chronicle of Acrobat/PDF-oriented newsbits

For week beginning 30 September 2002
By Kurt Foss, Planet PDF Editor

Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday


NOTE: Previous Weblogs will be archived at the end of each week, and start fresh here. You can also catch up on last week's Weblog.

MONDAY

PDF Makes Computerworld's Top 35 List: Compurtworld Computerworld celebrates 35 years of covering the technology industry with a special anniversary issue, featuring articles that look back at important developments in tools and at technology's now-vital role in business.

Among the special "35 Years of Technology" coverage is the publication's attempt to find "the 35 most important advances in corporate IT." The top five "technologies that shaped the industry," according to Computerworld, are:

  1. Dynamic RAM
  2. Graphical User Interface
  3. Internetworking
  4. Microprocessors
  5. Electronic Spreadsheets

At the other end of the list, sandwiched between Linux at #32 and Storage-area Networks at #34, is the Portable Document Format. Computerworld explains its #33 selection:

"Adobe Systems Inc. created this electronic document in 1993 as a way to preserve complex formatting across multiple platforms, irrespective of the viewing machine's specific configuration and available font library. Adobe's timing was good, and PDF became an instant success; today it's the worldwide standard for document distribution over the Web."

Calling PDF an "instant success" seems debateable -- the first couple versions of Acrobat didn't exactly take the world by storm, as memory serves. How many $50 copies of Acrobat Reader 1.0 did Adobe sell?

But there's no debate that Acrobat and PDF have found their place -- and/or that users have discovered in increasing numbers the varied, diverse applications -- during the last three product releases. It's nice to see Computerworld acknowledge it.


   

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TUESDAY

Miami Herald's PDF Century: The showcase daily newspaper in a state known -- among other things -- for being a good place to grow old, is apparently eager to join the ranks of those celebrating 100 years of existence. Miami Herald 100Several weeks ago The Miami Herald began to mark its aging process with a special issue -- including a 46-page PDF version -- that "marks the start of the 100th year of publication of our daily newspaper in Miami." Even the design of the special section is intended to have a historic feel, modeled after an actual Miami Herald page from 1963 -- the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (in Dallas, not Miami).

"This is still a young city compared to the world's metropolitan landmarks," notes the newspaper's publisher, "but there's a lot of history here." Some of it is featured in the "NEWS CENTURY" commemorative issue, others will be featured in future historical reflections leading up to the actual 100-year-mark in 2003.

Included is "arguably the most controversial story published by The Herald during its first 100 years" that involved the Democratic Party's leading presidential aspirant, Colorado Senator Gary Hart. Miami Herald Gary HartThe Herald reported in 1987 on Hart's alleged monkey business with a young blonde woman -- following a tip, a pair of the newspaper's reporters had been shadowing him to explore rumors of extramarital affairs. Upon discovering the liaison in progress, they confronted Hart outside his Washington, D.C. lovenest with his Miami mistress inside. In the special issue, the two Herald journalists explain how the story unfolded, including the ironic touch that their story "was published on the same Sunday that The New York Times published a story that contained Hart's denial of womanizing allegations and his famous challenge to the press to 'follow me around . . . it will be boring.'"

To many newspaper readers outside Miami, the Herald may be best known for the offbeat writings of staff writer and syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry. The 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winner "writes about various major issues relating to the international economy, the future of democracy, the social infrastructure and exploding toilets," according to the newspaper's own description. Not surprisingly, Barry lends his unique perceptions on the newspaper's first near-100 years in a column titled "Many Things Have Changed Since '03 But It's Still HOT!" Barry cites headlines supposedly taken from Herald issues published during its first week:

  • Monday: HEAT WAVE CONTINUES
  • Tuesday: MORE HIGH TEMPERATURES PREDICTED
  • Wednesday: HOT? BOY HOWDY
  • Thursday: EVERYBODY SWEATING LIKE PIG
  • Friday: UH-OH: SCIENTISTS SAY MIAMI HAS BEEN LIKE THIS FOR SEVERAL MILLION YEARS
  • Saturday: CHILD CARRIED OFF BY MOSQUITOES
  • Sunday: MIAMI COMMISSIONER INDICTED

Fortunately, he notes, relief from the heat eventually arrived: "By the 1970s, most of Miami had air conditioning, which made it possible, at long last, for the city's residents to stop spending all their time simply trying to survive the climate and instead focus their energy, their intellect and their imagination on committing felonies."

The 46-page PDF edition is made up of full broadsheet newspaper pages -- roughly 13 inches wide by 22 inches deep -- which doesn't lend itself easily to on-screen reading. Printing to standard page sizes requires that the pages be reduced considerably, so reading a printed version may likewise be a challenge. Additionally, as the issue includes a lot of graphically rich advertising, the special edition tips the scale at 11.2 MB in file size.


   

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WEDNESDAY

Adobe Peptide Deformylase?: A couple years ago, after noting varied definitions of the term "PDF" used on different Web sites -- some that should have known better -- we compiled a list of alternative meanings other than Adobe's favored 'portable document format.' Our list was compiled with the help of several online resources that locate acronyms, so the optional terms were more or less legitimate, meaningful terms that each simply had a different meaning in another context. (A couple were nothing more than bastardizations of the Acrobat file format.) Our initial list was by no means exhaustive, and we've encountered a variety of others since that was first published.

Generally on the same wavelength, anyone who's been an advocate of PDF as we know it has at one time or another encountered people with -- to put it kindly -- little appreciation for the file format. Some are especially strong in their anti-PDF convictions. even if they seldom can explain their convictions based on fact. I recall after once showcasing a particular user application several years ago that another site described our enthusiasm for PDF as being "cult-like." PDF has since moved from its alleged cult status to being a true de facto standard file format, but there remain skeptics and detractors (by that I don't mean those who have understand its genuine limitations, but rather those who oppose its use for no reason they can intelligently defend). For example, just this week on another Weblog there was a guy ranting that the availability of a certain document *only* in PDF was, in his terms, "elitist." Say what? Did someone sell this guy a free Reader?

I've never really settled on a catchy term to use in referring to those who advocate mindless opposition -- until today. Ironically, the discovery was directly related to stumbling upon yet another meaning for the term "PDF." The revelation came in an unlikely item published in Technology Review titled "New antibiotics on horizon." The science news update from United Press International (UPI) says that "Faced with a mounting tide of antibiotic resistance, researchers ... are eagerly watching a new type of drug class, whose first member is to go into human trials this fall."

"The so-called PDF inhibitors are 'an exciting new class of antibiotics,' researcher John Clements, of British Biotech, told reporters Saturday at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy."

The article goes on to explain the dangers of antibiotic resistance, something this new class of drugs is designed to deal with. According to one source: "One of the first of those drugs, found by studying the way bacterial cells function, attacks an enzyme called peptide deformylase or PDF, which is essential to life for most bacteria, but isn't vital in human cells." Another explains that "PDF is one of a group of enzymes -- molecules that perform various functions within a cell ..."

Things may get awkward when these scientists and researchers begin publishing reports on peptide deformylase in the portable document format -- something the PDF Inhibitors in the field will no doubt consider elitist.


   

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THURSDAY

Bridging the Gap in Civil Engineering Research: A growing area of interest around PDF is its applications within the Engineering field and profession, another example of which on the Web earlier this summer. Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, launched its "Digital Bridges" project as "a uniquely rich, interactive research tool for students, historians, and engineering professionals." It's an online collection of thirty representative 19th century American bridge engineering monographs, manuals, and documents drawn from Lehigh University Libraries' Special Collections.

You can browse or search the collection via a Web interface; on locating a specific resource, you can view the provided preview image, access a larger on-screen version or an archival quality (600 dpi) TIFF file, or download a PDF suitable for printing. According to the site, "Many of these items are relatively rare and in some cases quite fragile."

The site attempts to preserve the "book" format to as great an extent as possible:

"The title pages from each volume in the collection include a representative illustration or 'signature' design element from the printed book. Navigational graphics and menus were also developed to reflect the historical character of the collection. At the level of individual book and page views, the design goal was to preserve in the online form of each document as much as possible of the look and feel of the physical volumes themselves."

Brooklyn Bridge in PDF

The site won't try to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, but it has a lot of old images preserved in PDF, making it possible to study it from all angles.


   

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FRIDAY

Featuring Forum Features, User's Dilemma: Our Planet PDF Forum (forum.planetpdf.com) regularly features some of the most insightful Acrobat/PDF-related information around -- because it's based on real-world experiences of a broad spectrum of global users. Other than establishing some basic groundrules to help facilitate on-topic discussions and to minimize distractions, we try to let Forum members utilize this space as something of a self-governing, user-to-user resource.

That's not to say we don't look for ways to continue expanding and enhancing the Forum so it's an even more useful informational tool for all. In fact, with a recent software upgrade, we think we've done just that -- in a number of ways; more on that in a minute. At least some of you have already echoed that notion, as with the following email excerpt from one of the many knowledgeable "Forum Regulars" today:

"The new forum looks good, and it improves upon an already very smooth and usable board."

I'm biased, of course, but I think the Planet PDF Forum has as high a valuable-information-to-nonsense ratio as any online resource -- primarily because of the type of users who willingly commit their time and share their respective expertise, and who in turn help to set the tone for how a professional communications resource should operate.

Some Basic Terminology: the term "Forum" refers to the entire discussion area located at forum.planetpdf.com; within the Forum are a series of topic-specific "Conferences," each dedicated to an Acrobat/PDF-oriented sub-topic. For those who may not be aware, the Planet PDF Forum currently offers two modes of access for sending and receiving messages from within its conferences -- via a Web browser (i.e. user comes to the messages) or an email program (i.e. messages come to the user). Forum members can choose whichever suits their own way of working best -- or they can mix and match, using some combination as their varied situations dictate.

The email-access option has traditionally lacked a few of the capabilities available to members who utilize the Web browser method, but for the most part, it functions almost identically as a conventional email discussion list. Among the recent improvements included in the just-installed Forum software upgrade are several that enhance the experience for those who primarily (or exclusively) prefer the email method. We've outlined some of the more significant changes elsewhere on Planet PDF.

Last, yesterday a Forum member posted the following message, which we thought might prompt some interesting responses -- and thus we're sharing it outside the "walls" of the Forum:

"Management says, 'We will not print the 800-page catalog any longer. Customers will get product information off CDs or download sections of the 64MB behemoth off the intranet.' The customers and internal users want a paper catalog. This is my dilemma.

Now instead of printing, binding and shipping the catalog with each update at company expense, customers can print* new pages, at their expense, to insert into their paper catalogs. Unfortunately, they don't update consistently -- a data control death spiral. Further, they don't want to pay Kinkos to print the whole catalog with every update. In either case, they use their time, and they aren't selling our products. Paper is a pain, but catalog users want it.

After I got past the usual anti-change inertia at my company, two reasons for the resistance stood out. I imagine these issues are the same in other companies.

First catalog users want to add their personal notes in the margins. We have a product that is infinitely customizable and the catalog has to accommodate many types of users: sales reps, designers, estimators and administrative staff. Also, the notes can be used to compensate for possible shortcomings** in our catalog. They can't add notes to a screen.

Second, catalog users only have one computer screen, if they want to simultaneously enter an order or create a design, they can't. Well they could if the bought another screen and video card.

How would you get out of this corner with PDF?"

*Duplex printing can be arduous for some catalog users.

**If we could capture notes for improvement, it would be great!!!

Care to offer an opinion or, better yet, insight from having dealt with a similar situation? Reply in the Paper-to-PDF conference within the Planet PDF Forum! Thanks in advance ...


   

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